And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?”
– Matthew 26:19-22
This passage of scripture is so interesting to me. When Jesus shares with the disciples that one of them would betray Him, their responses weren’t to defend themselves, deny the betrayal, or protect Him from betrayal. These men had been following Jesus for a few years now, and yet nobody said, “Well, it’s definitely not me, Lord!” or, “None of us would ever betray you!”
Instead, they all asked: “Is it me?”
Each disciple was focused on himself and full of self-doubt. The only difference between Judas and the others was that Judas continued to pursue his own heart instead of Jesus. He followed his selfish desires to the end. As Jon Bloom once said, “If you are true to yourself, and your self is not anchored in Christ, your self will destroy you.”
I always associated the concept of denying yourself with marriage. In fact, I had heard so many sermons preached on submission and sacrifice that early on in our marriage when my husband and I both wanted to watch different TV shows, I lovingly reminded him that he was supposed to die to himself.
The truth is, scripture doesn’t say to die to yourself when you get married. It says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
As Christians, we were already supposed to have denied ourselves when we first chose Jesus—marriage just highlights the areas where we failed to do that. The only way to get to the sacrificial, purifying, unbreakable love described in Ephesians 5 is to first recognize the love that Jesus has for us.
When we become sin-focused instead of grace-focused, we respond in the same way the disciples did. We look at the work Christ did on the cross to cover all of our sins and then we look down at ourselves and say, “But what about this one? Is it covered?” We take our eyes off of Him and suddenly we are covered in self-doubt. When our lives are ruled by self-doubt, we can’t be there for the people we love and we certainly can’t love them the way we were called to.
Jesus doesn’t use guilt to draw you closer. Even knowing what was coming, He didn’t lean over to Judas and whisper, “Die to yourself”, the way that I did to my husband. He also didn’t leave a Bible open on Judas’ pillow with Luke 9:23 highlighted. He invested in Judas. He loved Judas. And when Judas betrayed Him and Peter denied Him, Jesus still took up His cross for them.
Denying yourself or putting someone else first in a relationship shouldn’t come from a place of guilt, duty, or self-righteous sacrifice; it should come from the overflow of love that Jesus is pouring into you. If you want to restore your relationships, pursue Jesus first.